By Brianna Hines
We have spent a lot of time talking about the spiritual aspect of fasting, but now I want to focus on the physical side. Oftentimes we like to separate ourselves into multiple categories: physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, etc. It is appealing to compartmentalize these things, so we can tackle any issues that arise from one direction at a time. But God didn’t create us with these separate categories. He gave us one body with one soul, one spirit, and one mind all wrapped and woven together. We can’t separate our physical selves from our emotional selves, or our spiritual selves from our physical selves no matter how hard we try. That’s a purely Western idea and one that God never really intended.
Our bodies are a beautiful and mysterious combination of all of these things, and to influence one is to affect the others. We have all seen this in action in our own lives. A simple example would be vitamin D. Here in Oregon, we don’t get as much sun as our bodies want, so the majority of us are significantly deficient in this little “sunshine vitamin.” If we are not supplementing our physical bodies with vitamin D, especially in January when the days are still short but the Christmas cheer feels miles away, it takes a toll on our mental and emotional health.
I get inordinately sad. It is difficult to motivate myself to do the things I know are good for me, like open my Bible, exercise, or go to church. I get short with those I love and sluggish at home. My physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health is not what it should be, and I feel it acutely in each of those areas. However, all it takes is a few days of taking plenty of vitamin D for me to start feeling better. It is almost scary how every single area of my life is improved with the addition of a tiny little vitamin.
God made our bodies as an interconnected, often confusing system. He knows all their ins and outs, and often, the things He commands and encourages in His Word influence all aspects of our bodies holistically. Science is just beginning to prove what God has known since the beginning of time. Meditation increases our wellbeing. Cleanliness protects against disease. Anxiety shortens our lifespan. Gratitude fosters joy. Rest restores our bodily systems. And the list goes on. There are thousands of things science is proving to be healthy (or unhealthy) that were hidden in God’s Word all along, and fasting is certainly one of them.
I have been doing some research on the physical benefits of fasting, and the stuff I am finding is incredible! Did you know that when we fast, our bodies turn on a process called “autophagy” that actually clears out dead and damaged cells? As we go about our lives, cells in our bodies get damaged or die and can start to clog up our systems if they are not cleared out. Autophagy is our body’s natural solution for this. As it gets rid of cellular debris in our bodies, it fights off things like aging, cancer, inflammation, and even neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. When we fast, we are turning on this process and our bodies get renewed and restored in a big way! It is like a clean slate for them!
Autophagy can begin anywhere between four to 16 hours into your fast, depending on how many carbs were in your last meal, so even doing a 24-hour fast can give your body plenty of time to do some cellular spring cleaning. Wow! God really knew what He was doing when He commanded His people to fast once a year for 24 hours! He designed the human body to get this kind of a reset at least once a year. So, He gave the Israelites a command to do it, so it would never be neglected. God is so good, isn’t He? He really knows what is best for us.
It doesn’t stop there, though! In between 24 and 72 hours of fasting, our bodies enter a fat-burning stage called ketosis that can rev up our cognitive performance, mental clarity, and energy. And after three days of fasting, all of the previous benefits just continue to increase. A study done in Germany found that people fasting between four and 21 days experienced marked weight loss, improvements in major health issues, and most surprisingly, NOT hunger. After several days of fasting, those hunger pangs that first plagued us will disappear, and we will actually get to enjoy that mental clarity and autophagy for up to four weeks! In one of my books, I read that after a few days of fasting, we will reach a point where we feel like we could keep fasting endlessly. It sounds really cool, and I kind of want to try it.
Eventually, though, our bodies will get hungry again, and this is the natural signal that it is time to break the fast. It is exactly what happened to Jesus in the wilderness. After 40 days of the mental clarity, focus, and autophagy that He experienced during His fast, He got hungry and knew that His time in the wilderness was up.
Fasting is not meant to be forever, but it is also not meant to be never. Our physical bodies actually need fasting as a means of restoring their systems to full health and cleanliness. Who knew? God. That’s who. He knew the whole time how good it is for us — body, mind, soul, and spirit. So, if for no other reason, then maybe try fasting this year as a means of caring for this body God gave you. This body that is a temple and a living sacrifice and fearfully and wonderfully made by a God who is pretty stinkin clever.
Thank you for joining us this month for Hungry. We’d love to hear how the study has ministered to you. We pray you were encouraged and challenged to add biblical fasting to the rhythms of your life.
In the coming weeks, we’re moving from fasting to feasting! Beginning February 10, we plan to take an 8-week journey through a little-studied chapter of Leviticus in which God instructed His desert-wandering, forgetful children to celebrate His faithfulness with seven annual feasts. On first read, the book of Leviticus and the feasts of chapter 23 might seem antiquated and irrelevant, but a deeper look shows us how thousands of years before Jesus’ earthly ministry these feasts pointed to the gospel and how they reveal to us the faithful character of our God.
It’s super simple to join us for this study.
- Order a copy of the book — 7 Feasts by Erin Davis.
- Then, join us at either 9:30 a.m. or 6:30 p.m. Thursdays, February 10-April 14 (no group March 24) for a time of fellowship, discussion, and prayer. Watch the blog for the location of the morning group (child care provided). The evening group will meet at the church offices.
- Follow the blog for weekly posts and video/audio recordings that accompany the book study.